Efficacy of low-frequency low-intensity electrotherapy in the treatment of breast cancer-related lymphoedema: A cross-over randomized trial

Roser Belmonte, Marta Tejero, Montse Ferrer, Josep M. Muniesa, Esther Duarte, Oriol Cunillera, Ferran Escalada

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To compare the efficacy of low-frequency low-intensity electrotherapy and manual lymphatic drainage in the treatment of chronic upper limb breast cancer-related lymphoedema.Design: Cross-over single-blind random clinical trial.Setting: Rehabilitation service.Participants: Thirty-six women with chronic upper limb breast cancer-related lymphoedema.Methods: Patients were randomized to undergo 10 sessions of manual lymphatic drainage followed by 10 sessions of low-frequency low-intensity electrotherapy or to undergo first low-frequency low-intensity electrotherapy followed by manual lymphatic drainage. There was a month of washout time between treatments. Each patient was examined just before and after each treatment. Researchers and outcome assessors were blinded for assigned treatment.Measures: Outcomes were lymphoedema volume, pain, heaviness and tightness, and health-related quality of life measured with the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy Questionnaire for Breast Cancer version 4 (FACT-B+4). Carry-over, period and treatment effects were analysed. Treatment effect was assessed using paired t-test.Results: Thirty patients finalized treatment. Comparing the changes in low-frequency low-intensity electrotherapy with manual lymphatic drainage changes, there were no significant differences. Low-frequency low-intensity electrotherapy did not reduce lymphoedema volume (mean of change = 19.77 mL, P = 0.36), but significant reductions were observed in pain, heaviness and tightness (mean of change = 13.1, 16.2 and 6.4 mm, respectively), and FACT-B+4 summaries improved significantly (Trial Outcome Index mean of change = 5.4, P = 0.015). Manual lymphatic drainage showed no significant changes in any of the outcomesConclusion: Although there are no significant differences between treatment changes, the observed trend towards a better health-related quality of life is remarkable in low-frequency low-intensity electrotherapy. © The Author(s) 2011.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-618
JournalClinical Rehabilitation
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2012


  • Breast cancer
  • electric stimulation therapy
  • lymphoedema
  • physical therapy
  • quality of life


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